Caleb Martin & Anindita Das

WelchX Pilot Grant, Baylor Univ. & Southern Methodist Univ.

Caleb Martin and Dia Das first met at the WelchX retreat, where they realized they had complementary skill sets. With support from a WelchX pilot grant, they are combining their respective expertise in homogeneous and heterogeneous materials to create catalysts with the potential benefits of both: catalytic systems that offer high conversion, substrate selectivity and recyclability.

The Martin lab works with boranes, simple organic Lewis superacids (LSAs). LSAs have proven to be effective catalysts but are not recyclable because of their homogeneous nature. The collaboration aims to graft LSAs onto heterogeneous covalent organic frameworks (COF), the research focus of the Das group. The resulting COF LSAs structures will support tunable porosity effective for selective binding. The team will leverage the substrate recognition in catalysis while the heterogeneous nature of the COF LSAs will enable catalyst recycling by filtration.

“This is a new area for both of us,” said Caleb Martin, associate professor at Baylor. “It combines our respective expertise to open up an exciting new approach to sustainable catalysis. Our homogeneous systems, while not recyclable, enable us to learn about the compounds and their function. By grafting this type of molecule on solid supports that won’t dissolve in solution, theoretically it should allow us to create effective, recyclable catalysts.

“Our goal is to prove the principle with the WelchX grant this year,” he added. “We think of this as the ‘training wheel’ stage of a new venture – and hope to take what we learn to create second generation COF LSAs.”

Both researchers praise the “great” collaboration between the groups and how integrating the intellectual contributions of both teams has taken the work to a higher level than achievable by either lab alone.

“It is challenging work, and we are learning a lot along the way, discovering new chemistry,” said Anindita Das, assistant professor at SMU. “We are very, very grateful to The Welch Foundation. I started my SMU lab during Covid so the retreat itself was particularly useful in introducing me to new researchers across the state. Coming from the retreat, this joint project with Martin’s lab has been instrumental for both our teams. It has let me ‘think big’ – and truly appreciate the value of collaboration for tackling challenging problems. Our hope is that good things will come out of this,” she added.

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